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How to Train your Feet for Hiking Season

Altra Zero Drop shoes have quickly become a hiker favorite.
Altra Zero Drop shoes have quickly become a hiker favorite.

If you’ve ever thought about switching to Altra Zero Drop trail running shoes for your backpacking season, now is the time to start getting your foot accustomed to the shoe. I find that switching to hiking in the Altra Lone Peaks has increased my stability, reduced my strike impact, provided comfort for hours of hiking, eliminated long term hiker issues like plantar fasciitis, and increased my efficiency. That being said, hitting the trail with a brand new pair of Altras if you’ve never worn them before may not be the best idea because there is a transition time associated with switching over to a Zero drop shoe.

Lone Peak 1.0 in Escalante. Photo by <a title="Rocky Mountain Ruck" href="www.barefootjake.com">Barefoot Jake Morrison.</a>
Lone Peak 1.0 in Escalante. Photo by Barefoot Jake Morrison.

Fear not, though—the benefits of switching over are HUGE for long distance hikers. Zero drop shoes help align the feet, reduce the impact of each foot step, and increase your stability. The foot shaped toe box—increases balance and efficiency, while reducing blisters and chaffing, maximize shock absorption and allows toes to spread out naturally. What this means for hikers is day-long comfort, increased stride efficiency, and less foot pain.

Baileys traverse in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo by <a href="www.barefootjake.com">Barefoot Jake.</a>
Baileys traverse in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo by Barefoot Jake.

So, why should you start transitioning to Altra shoes now instead of say, a few days before my hike most thru-hikers (myself included) do the bulk of the trip planning? Because we’ve all spent years wearing high-heel like elevated trail runners, our feet have been trained to be lazy (in scientific speak—has neutralized our Achilles and lower calf muscles). If you hit the trail doing 15s, 20s, or 30 milers in a zero drop shoe when you’ve never worn zero drop shoes before, your Achilles and lower calf muscles are going to feel the burn. The muscles in your feet are going to be confused. It’s best to give yourself at least three weeks to strengthen your legs and feet before your hike.

Bobcat, Malto, and me on the Wonderland Trail in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo by Swami at <a href="www.thehikinglife.com">the Hiking Life.</a>
Bobcat, Malto, and me on the Wonderland Trail in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo by Swami at the Hiking Life.

Pre-hike training schedule:

Before you get your shoes (or during week 1): Walk around barefoot in the grass or the beach or your bedroom for 30 seconds, adding a 30 seconds per day. Week 1: Wear Altras around the office and running light errands (they sell a “work appropriate” show called the Instinct Everyday that has many of the same features as the running shoe, but looks like it’d work with a suit). At first, the Toe Shaped footbox may feel too roomy and weird. After a few days, your toes will start relaxing and will start spreading out naturally.

Sandstone in Moab in the Superior 2.0s Photo by the <a href="http://therealhikingviking.com/">Tom Gathman.</a>
Sandstone in Moab in the Superior 2.0s Photo by the Tom Gathman.

Week 2: Do a very short hikes (whatever that means to you). Start without your backpack and give yourself a rest day to assess how your feet, joints, Achilles, foot muscles, and lower calves feel. If everything seems great, slowly increase the mileage and add weight to your backpack, being sure to build in days in between for rest and recovery. On a thru-hike, it’s near impossible to take zero days every day, so let your body take advantage of rest days between hikes to build muscles and strength. Let your body also take advantage of the muscle building fuels that you can get from living off trail. Building muscles on trail when you’re living on instant mashed potatoes and ramen is going to be a little bit more difficult.

Escalante in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo by<a href="www.barefootjake.com">Barefoot Jake</a>
Escalante in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo byBarefoot Jake

Barefoot Jake. Week 3: Up your mileage slightly, being sure to take days off in between. Take note of any excessive soreness or discomfort and rest up more. Week 4-6: Do a few hikes of the approximate length that you would wish to start a thru-hike. Take some days off between. Assess how you feel. Try doing that distance with a full pack of gear.

Glacier walking in the Lone Peak 1.5s in Olympic National Park. Photo by <a href="www.barefootjake.com">Barefoot Jake.</a>
Glacier walking in the Lone Peak 1.5s in Olympic National Park. Photo by Barefoot Jake.

With this training system, your feet will get stronger and reduce the chance of getting bone fractures. Your lower calves will be ready to hit the trail (relatively speaking). And you’ll enjoy the natural alignment benefits of wearing a Zero Drop shoes. Wearing Zero Drop shoes is like long distance hiking: once you start doing it, you’ll have a hard time thinking of life the same way. If you’ve ever thought about it, I highly encourage starting now before hiking season gets into full swing so that you can maximize the benefits when you’re on trail.     (P.S. I’m not a doctor. Legal says that you should consult with your physician before doing anything physical or changing your life in any way).

2015 Year In Review

 

From desert, to rain forest, to alpine, to rock, 2014 brought me to familiar, beloved landscapes and new territories. This year challenged me and gave me new skills. Here are some photo highlights of my year.

January: Moab Canyonlands and Arches Trip, Utah
January: Moab Canyonlands and Arches Trip, Utah
Almost Feb: Outdoor Retailer Winter 2014 with beloved hikers, Salt Lake City, UT
Almost Feb: Outdoor Retailer Winter 2014 with beloved hikers, Salt Lake City, UT
March: Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon. AZ and UT. Photo by Rob Kelly of <a href="http://qiwiz.net/">QiWhiz</a>
March: Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon. AZ and UT. Photo by Rob Kelly of QiWhiz
April: Trans Adirondack Route, Upstate New York.
April: Trans Adirondack Route, Upstate New York.
May: Volunteering with the Continental Divide Trail Coalition on the Southern Terminus shuttle to bring 100 hikers, including the Warrior Hikers shown here, to the CDT. Silver City, NM
May: Volunteering with the Continental Divide Trail Coalition on the Southern Terminus shuttle to bring 100 hikers, including the Warrior Hikers shown here, to the CDT. Silver City, NM
Desolation Wilderness/Crystal Range Traverse with Sierra Club Fastpackers. California. Photo by Brian Gunney.
Desolation Wilderness/Crystal Range Traverse with Sierra Club Fastpackers. California. Photo by Brian Gunney.
June: Tahoe Rim Trail Personal Record, California
June: Tahoe Rim Trail Personal Record, California
June/July: Pioneered the Chinook Trail horseshoe traverse of the Columbia River Gorge, OR/WA with Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa and Brian “Tomato” Boshart.
June/July: Pioneered the Chinook Trail horseshoe traverse of the Columbia River Gorge, OR/WA with Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa and Brian “Tomato” Boshart.
June/July: Urban Thru-hike of San Francisco
June/July: Urban Thru-hike of San Francisco
August/September: Pacific Crest Trail, Cascade Locks, OR to Canadian Border
August/September: Pacific Crest Trail, Cascade Locks, OR to Canadian Border
September: Humphrey’s Basin Loop, Eastern Sierras, and White Mountains trip. Photo by Alejandro Pinnick.
September: Humphrey’s Basin Loop, Eastern Sierras, and White Mountains trip. Photo by Alejandro Pinnick.

 

September: A wonderful opportunity to speak to my peers at the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West Annual Gathering at Stampede Pass, WA. Photo by Jeff Kish.
September: A wonderful opportunity to speak to my peers at the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West Annual Gathering at Stampede Pass, WA. Photo by Jeff Kish.

 

October: Wonderland Trail with Malto, Bobcat, and Swami. Photo by Cam “Swami Honan.
October: Wonderland Trail with Malto, Bobcat, and Swami. Photo by Cam “Swami Honan.
November: Colorado Trail is still clear of snow!
November: Colorado Trail is still clear of snow!
December: The Denver-area thru-hikers reconnected with each other to put together weekly hikes.
December: The Denver-area thru-hikers reconnected with each other to put together weekly hikes.

Long Term Review of the NW Alpine Eyebright Jacket

Using the<a href="http://nwalpine.com/store/#!/Eyebright-Jacket/p/21771509/category=5235882"> NW Alpine Eyebright jacket </a>on top of Mt. Tallac with Lake Tahoe in the background. Photo by Brian Gunney.
Using the NW Alpine Eyebright jacket on top of Mt. Tallac with Lake Tahoe in the background. Photo by Brian Gunney.

This past season, I’ve had the pleasure of trying out the NW Alpine Eyebright Jacket. At 4.8-5.4 oz for a small, it’s the lightest fully waterproof jacket on the market. Made with breathable cuben fiber, whose properties are covered in depth by HikeLighter, the Eyebright jacket is functional in a wide variety of climates and situations and can be used as part of an ultralight gear system in ways very different than a traditional backpacking rain jacket. This versatility and mutli-use gives it a clear advantage over other rain jackets on the market.

First and foremost–the Eyebright jacket fits really well. This isn’t something to be taken lightly in the backpacking world as more than one rain jacket I’ve had over the years has been overly billowy which is not only less functional and more susceptible to letting water in, but dumpy looking. Instead, on the Eyebright jacket, pull cords make sure that the hood stays secure whether I have a hat, a beanie, or nothing on under it. The Napoleon pocket is great for keeping maps and snacks, especially since I hate to stop to pull things out of my pack when it is raining and not all rain jackets offer that feature. Unlike other rain jackets on the market, the sleeves are long enough and Velcro keeps them snug. Lastly, the design itself is sleek (which is somewhat important to me, as in the past, I avoided taking photos because my rain protection was less than flattering).

Yet another rainy PCT finish on the Washington-Canada border. The time, my rain gear doesn’t make me loop like a Teletubby AND I have a Stehekin bakery cinnamon roll.
Yet another rainy PCT finish on the Washington-Canada border. The time, my rain gear doesn’t make me loop like a Teletubby AND I have a Stehekin bakery cinnamon roll.

My season started with multiple day hikes with temperatures as low as 0 degrees F in white-out snow storms in Colorado. Wanting to test out the Eyebright’s breathability, I layered it over my Western Mountaineering Flash Jacket and Patagonia Nanopuff down pullover. Snow piled up on me and I knew that if the jacket wasn’t waterproof enough, it would soak my down and make for a very cold and unpleasant dayhike. If the jacket didn’t breathe, the down would also compress. I knew a hard dayhike was the best way to test it because if something went wrong, I’d make it back to my warm home no worse for the wear. I was afraid to test it on an overnighter because it seemed too risky.

Using the Eyebright jacket on a shoulder season cross-country hike in the High Sierra with Glen van Peski. The Eyebright held up well as I dragged my butt across the granite boulders over the high passes.
Using the Eyebright jacket on a shoulder season cross-country hike in the High Sierra with Glen van Peski. The Eyebright held up well as I dragged my butt across the granite boulders over the high passes.

Much to my amazement, the down+Eyebright combo worked really well! The cuben fiber was incredibly waterproof and breathable and after several dayhikes, I felt comfortable that the combo would work on a thru-hike.

I next took the Eyebright on a really early season hike of the Transadirondack Route. This winter, the Adirondacks were hit with temperatures as low as -40F and late season snow. I was the only person stupid enough to be out there that early in the season and was postholing up to my waist for much of the trip. Although I didn’t have a thermometer, temperatures easily got into the teens (if not lower). It was so cold that I wore my Eyebright constantly throughout the trip. I was so confident in its breathability that I didn’t take it off to sleep, keeping it over my down layers and under my sleeping bag. There was no condensation inside the jacket and no compressed down!

Eyebright during a storm in northern Washington
Eyebright during a storm in northern Washington

I was concerned about the durability of the cuben fiber, especially on bushwhacks. The Trans Adirondack Route had multiple cross country sections bushwhacking through lots of trees and downed branches. The cuben fiber even got caught on a dead tree once but held strong against the elements. I’ve also used the Eyebright on some alpine 2nd-3rd class rock climbs/scrambles in the Sierra where I knew I was dragging against granite but had to do it or else I’d fall, and the Eyebright jacket held up well.

The ultimate test for breathability and keeping dry was taking the NW Alpine jacket back to its home region—the Pacific Northwest. Most of my miles this season were based out here—from the pioneering journey of the Chinook Route to all of Washington on the PCT to a thru-hike of the Wonderland Trail. Each trip presented me with cold rain or snow and steep, sweat-inducing uphills. On each trail, the Eyebright kept me dry from rain and free from sweat accumulation under the jacket—even on the uphills. It has the breathable feel of a windshirt with the waterproofing of a heavier rainjacket.

This season, I became so confident in the Eyebright’s breathability that I stopped carrying my windshirt altogether for several hikes this season, including a thru-hike of the Tahoe Rim Trail. In Buckskin Gulch/Paria Canyon in northern Arizona and southern Utah, I was expecting no precip, but brought my Eyebright in lieu of a windshirt. It kept me warm against the wind without sweating and I was especially happy when an unexpected rain + wind storm hit. I was warm and dry—better than I can say for my hiking buddies!

Although the price isn’t insignificant, hikers easily spend as much on a cuben fiber tarp or backpack. Frankly, I spend more time hiking than I spend sleeping in my tarp—so I’d much rather invest in a good rain jacket. I learned how to backpack in California and my dislike of hiking in the rain is so great, that I’m willing prioritize staying dry while hiking. The price also takes into account the jackets are made by a small business in the U.S., both of which I like to support with regards to my gear.

For those looking for a similar design at a lower price, the NW Alpine Simplicity jacket is a similar cut but made with a DWR treated ripstop nylon serving as a good in-between for a windshirt and rain protection. At $90 (sale price), it’s a great deal, especially compared to other technical windshirts on the market like the Patagonia Houdini or the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer.

In conclusion, of all my new hiking gear this season, the Eyebright jacket is my favorite. Functional, versatile, and light, it’s a great addition to my ultralight long distance hiking system.

Disclaimer: NW Alpine gave me the opportunity to test out the Eyebright for personal feedback. I was not obligated to write an online review, but after 8 months of backpacking with the Eyebright, I wanted to share it with other like-minded backpackers. The post is my own opinion after hiking with the Eyebright as my rain gear for the last 8 months.

Canyonlands Winter Slickrock Fest

Barefoot Jake jumps skirts the red rock after a pass
Barefoot Jake jumps skirts the red rock after a pass

This is Part 2 on unreal winter dayhikes on Moab. To see Part 1 on hiking to a 17-foot long snake pictograph, click here.

I’m ashamed to say I’ve been to Moab more than a few times, but until this January, never made it out to the epically-sized Canyonlands National Park. This time around, I learned there is a reason: although it is the largest national park in Utah, Canyonlands is the least visited. The park in the winter, I discovered, is a time of extreme seclusion. After miles of seeing no cars, a group of unfazed hikers and I reached the unguarded entrance gate to the park and popped by the closed visitor center (luckily the bathrooms were unlocked!). Lawton ‘Disco’ Grinter, Barefoot Jake, Will Rietveld, Grant Sible, Trinity Ludwig and her friend Erin and I were about to enter 337,598 acres of desert slickrock and have it all to ourselves.

Towers feature many features of weathered rock. Erin gives good perspective on their massiveness.
Towers feature many features of weathered rock. Erin gives good perspective on their massiveness.

Even if I were just a car tourist, the Needles District of Canyonlands is stunning. Multi-colored towers of Cedar Mesa sandstone loom over the roadways. The Needles District has over 60 miles of primitive trails on icy slickrock—but even these were an improvement on our cross country scrambling route in Behind the Rock Wilderness Study Area the previous day. We were stoked to walk on maintained trail for a bit complete with stone stairs and cairns.

I was amazed formations like this could exist surrounded by soft soil and almost a meadow.
I was amazed formations like this could exist surrounded by soft soil and almost a meadow.

 

Our trail took us into open pinyon flats surrounded by turrets of red, brown, and white. After a lunch break at a sunny campsite, we wandered into slickrock ravines and skirted the edge of massive formations of multi-layered sandstone. Often, we would hug overhanging cliffs, posing a challenge to our taller group members.

Grant Sible, with a height of 6’3″ or 4″ , had to duck for parts of this hike
Grant Sible, with a height of 6’3″ or 4″ , had to duck for parts of this hike

Our route passed hidden slot-canyon caves and sometimes required a full body chimney through rock tunnels.

Grant and Barefoot Jake do a bit of chimneying though a narrow cave we tunneled through on our hike.
Grant and Barefoot Jake do a bit of chimneying though a narrow cave we tunneled through on our hike.

We left one valley into another over a pass only accessible by ladder. Soon, the snow-peaked La Salle mountains painted our horizon.

The snow-covered La Salle Mountains seem a world a way from this desert slickrock
The snow-covered La Salle Mountains seem a world a way from this desert slickrock

The sketchiest part of the hike, by far, was sneaking up icy slick rock pour offs. We would gingerly creep up steep slabby sandstone, following the path of frozen-over baby waterfalls. Then would come the mini-roof where we needed to commit our body and our feet to a ledge that we couldn’t see. Last year, a woman died slumping up onto this icy shelf where she slipped and toppled down a hundred feet of slab rock.

Sketchy icy downclimbing on frozen slab upped the adventure factor on any otherwise well-marked hike.
Sketchy icy downclimbing on frozen slab upped the adventure factor on any otherwise well-marked hike.

We ventured over a few more icy slick rock passes. Don’t slip, don’t slip, don’t slip, I told myself. As I carefully heel-toed my way across one of these, my chapstick fell from my pocket, tumbling to the ledge below. I wasn’t about to leave a manmade object in the wilderness, but really would be bummed with myself if I died trying to get some lip balm. I downclimbed an even icier section of steep slab, raising questions from my companions. “I dropped something!” I called out as I gratefully captured my lost treasure, and continued on the slick rock trail.

Trinity stares off into the expanse of desert scenery
Trinity stares off into the expanse of desert scenery

The last part of our trip took us to a wide, sandy wash. During some parts of the year, this gulch must fill with water—in fact, part of our trip along it had us walking on a skating rink of thin ice. Here, we were able to bust out good speed on solid, well marked trail all the way to the Campground parking lot.

The scenery in Canyonlands is very different than Barefoot Jake’s home in Olympic National Park, Washington.
The scenery in Canyonlands is very different than Barefoot Jake’s home in Olympic National Park, Washington.

What struck me the most about the Needles is that so many mindblowing formations could be found in one system of trails. For a relatively well-marked national park path way, I felt technically challenged, scenically gifted, and highly rewarded. I can’t wait to return to this section of the Canyonlands again, hopefully to do a bit of backpacking and exploring more of the amazing features that are out there.

Moab Trip to the Solstice Snake

A secret cross-country route near Moab will lead to this magnificant 17-foot pictograph
A secret cross-country route near Moab will lead to this magnificant 17-foot pictograph

For fair-weathered hikers like myself, finding a sweet winter dayhike relatively free of snow and big on scenery can sometimes be a hard task. This January, instead of making my winter trip to Henry Coe State Park in California, I hit up Moab, Utah. Well known as a mountain-biking and 4-wheeling mecca, it’s the closest town to Arches and Canyonlands National Park and winter weather can be sunny and in the 40s—in essence, perfect conditions for a pack of hooligan hikers to go tromping (in a Leave No Trace kind of way) in the unexplored backcountry.

Trinity and Erin do some stretching
Trinity and Erin do some stretching

We met up with Will Reitveld, a seasoned desert explorer of the Utah wilds who let us in on some of his favorite Moab secrets. After dropping a car at a parking lot at the Hidden Valley Trailhead, we started the hike off a dirt road along the Colorado River. With less than five minutes of uphill walking (a reprieve from the below-freezing temperatures of the morning) and a bit of rock scrambling, we emerged at a wall of 11th-13th century pictograph from the Fremont or Anasazi people (I can’t remember which—can anyone help me here?)

Pictograph of mountain goats or elk
Pictograph of mountain goats or elk

Since this was a relatively big snow year in Moab, much slush and ice remained on our cross country route, adding a bit to the navigational challenge. Our next big trial was downclimbing icy slick rock in a shady canyon.

Trinity downclimbs an icy chute
Trinity downclimbs an icy chute

After crossing a dirt road, we entered the Behind the Rocks Wilderness Study Area above the cliffs of the western crest of Moab Valley. Known for Navajo sandstone domes and being unvegetated (60% of Behind the Rocks has no plants at all!), the navigationally savvy traveler gets 12,635 acres of mazed slot canyons all to herself.

 

A long, slow, uphill through a web of narrow ravines led us to a dead-end: we were at the bottom of a pour off with a 15 foot cliff before us. It was rock climbing time.

 

Time to rope up
Time to rope up

Once we were over the pour-off, we continued to ascend to the pass between domes. Dodging willow branches lodged at the bottom of slot canyons and navigating narrow snow-covered ledges, we emerged at a stunning sunny look-out point—the top of a cliff with a steep drop several hundred feet vertically below us.

As Barefoot Jake artistically strove to take the best shot of the group, he walked on the edge of a cliff. Moving towards the edge, he nonchalantly called: “Does this cliff out below me asked?” “YES! DON’T KEEP GOING!” we all exclaimed!
As Barefoot Jake artistically strove to take the best shot of the group, he walked on the edge of a cliff. Moving towards the edge, he nonchalantly called: “Does this cliff out below me asked?” “YES! DON’T KEEP GOING!” we all exclaimed!

After a cold day of trudging through the snow and walking on icy shelves, it was a relief to emerge at our destination: the Solstice Snake. A 17-foot long pictograph, dating to the 11th to 13th century. I had to wonder: why did the ancient people put it here? Why in a place so inaccessible and so far away from water? Above the snake on a ledge that truly could only have been reached by a great rock climber was another pictograph of a person. (Please note that if you do go to the snake, please be respectful and do not take anything and be careful sharing directions as many people consider it a secret and special place.) Nearby, there were some drawings of figures that looked a little like aliens…

Disco examines some ancient aliens
Disco examines some ancient aliens

Sometimes on a hike, I get to a point where I think, “Wait—we’re not really going to go over that next, are we?” That’s how I felt about a fin—a 100 foot slab of sandstone I would have put at a rock climbing metric level of 3rd class. Sure enough, we went up and over…

Going up the steep slab fin
Going up the steep slab fin

And then down…

 

Barefoot Jake tackles a sketchy downclimb
Barefoot Jake tackles a sketchy downclimb

The day ended with a descent down from the Behind the Rocks WSA to our car near Highway 191. Just driving 191, one might look at the cliffs out of Moab and think there is no way up them without a rope (or a big dose of courage). Will found a small, steep gulley of reasonably not-loose rocks and a good share of snow where we could descend. It was a bit dicey for a crew of seven to go down all in a line, but we experienced minimal rockfall.

Walking an icy ledge
Walking an icy ledge

We were pretty relieved to hit a slippery, windy trail for the last mile back to the car ready for more great winter dayhiking!

Do you have a favorite winter day hike?